CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The honors keep piling up for Brad Keselowski.
The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was honored Sunday night’s with the National Motorsports Press Association Richard Petty Driver of the Year award.
Keselowski drove the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge to five wins and 23 top-10 finishes in 36 races last season. He started the season with a wreck at the Daytona 500, but rallied over the final two races of the year to overtake Jimmie Johnson for his first career championship.
“2012 was a phenomenal season, better than I could have ever dreamed,” said Keselowski. “We started off with a fireball at Daytona, but ended with a championship.”
It was the fourth straight year the series champion was honored as driver of the year as the last non-champion was Carl Edwards in 2008.
Keselowski, 28, is a second-generation driver, the son of former ARCA Series champion Bob Keselowski. The two were able to share in Brad’s NASCAR championship glory this offseason.
“I had the chance to be with my dad and have some fun with my family,” Keselowski said. “One of the things we talk about was that I just wanted to make a living in the sport. I didn’t really expect to win the whole thing, but it worked out in mysterious ways.
Entering his fifth season in the Cup Series, Keselowski has career numbers of nine wins and two pole positions. He is also a former champion and a 20-time race winner in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
To repeat as champion, he and the Penske Racing team will have to successfully transition to Ford from Dodge. It is less of a challenge than he’s faced earlier in his career.
Keselowski remembered his last visit to the Charlotte University Hilton before he received the driver of the year award. It was his rookie year in the Truck Series and the same fuss wasn’t made about a young kid from Michigan trying to break into the sport.
“When I pulled up in the driveway, I couldn’t remember when or why I was here,” Keselowski recalled. “Then when I walked in the exact room, I remembered I was getting ready to run my first season in the Truck Series. Bobby Hamilton was the champion and on stage, while I was off to the side with all the guys getting ready to run the Truck Series.
“I remember the media asking Bobby all these questions and I had flown in from Detroit, so I’m thinking it’s great I’m going to get asked all these questions. The whole thing went through and nobody asked me one single question.”
Safe to say, his opinion is much more sought after these days. Keselowski feels a great sense of accomplishment when he looks back at his time coming from a virtual nobody in the Truck Series through the NASCAR ranks to win the biggest championship in the sport.
Getting an award first handed out to LeeRoy Yarbrough in 1969 and named for the seven-time NASCAR champion Petty made him even more reflective about the past few seasons.
“In general, it’s been a great ride,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to be here today, racing at this level, and I know that. So, I really treasure this award.”